This is where we’re bending the rules of this list. The RZ500 was never officially imported to the U.S., but a lot of examples made their way here via Canada. When the RZ500 debuted in 1984, it was the closest thing to a 500cc Grand Prix bike with lights and blinkers as a motorcyclist could get. The 500cc liquid-cooled V-4 two-stroke powering the RZ shared little with its thoroughbred counterpart aside from its twin-crank V-4 layout, but its two-stroke powerband was more exciting than anything else on the road at the time, and it weighed much less than competing four-strokers.

It stood alone as the only 500cc GP replica until 1985 when the terrific RG500 Gamma was brought into Suzuki’s lineup and Honda debuted its oddball V-3 NSR400. The RZ and RG produced about the same power, but the Suzuki’s aluminum frame gave it far better handling than the steel-framed RZ. The Japanese market also offered the RD500R, which used an aluminum frame. The RZ’s engine was used as the heart of the YZR500 Wayne Rainey Replica we recently posted. Unlike the current RC213V-S four-stroke MotoGP replica from Honda at $164k, the RZ500 was priced at a much more affordable $3,900 in 1984, about $9k in 2016 greenbacks – which is about as cheap as you can find one for on eBay these days; clean examples can cost considerably more. MO’s EiC, Kevin Duke, used to own an RZ500 25 years ago (that’s him in the lead photo), and he raves about the two-stroke’s radical powerband and zinging V-4 exhaust note. After having ridden more than 700 other motorcycles since then, he says the GP replica remains one of his all-time favorites.

  • ‘Mike Smith

    Why would a major company like Bridgestone bail on the premier motorcycling competition? That’s the article I would like to read.

  • john phyyt

    This yamaha tragic thanks you and sort of agrees. I would have put the first R1 at number one. .. Yamaha has a magic history in 2 stroke GP history and also off road excellence I would love an article on the mighty TZ’s etc . I believe that Yamaha has a more authentic racing heritage than those other expensive “Name” brands

    • spiff

      Yamaha definitely has a rich racing heritage.

  • spiff

    The FZR1000 was a great all round road bike, then the YZF1000, what about an FZR 400. As you can guess, I dig Yamaha. I am not in total agreement, but dig them all. I was going to call blasphemy until you mentioned the RZ

    • Mahatma

      I’d vote for that FZR 400

      • spiff

        I say bring it back as the YZF400R and the forced induction YZF400RR. 🙂

  • OW01. Fogarty’s IOM TT record that stood for 7 years. 4 Suzuka 8 hours. Rymer, McElnea, Witham, Mackenzie won BSB championships on this and then the YZF750.

    Then there’s the TZR250 that was the first ever 100mph IoM production 250 ridden by Mat Oxley.

    Two other bikes deserve a mention. The original R6 which was when 600s properly came of age, not the FZR600. And my all time fav hooligan bike the TDR250. You’d be lucky to get 1000 miles out of a Stan Stephens stage 2 top end rebuild, but they were hilarious.

  • JMDonald

    I noticed some of the older bikes have vents or scoops. Are they functional or are fake scoops a recent design cue for Yamaha? I don’t alway ride Yamaha sport bikes but when I do I insist they have fake scoops on them. I am the most interesting motorcyclist in the world. I see a new marketing campaign in their future.

  • SRMark

    The RD400 was a very good bike when left in stock trim. Great for everyday commuting, outstanding on the weekend romps. It was reliable too. I sure miss mine.

  • Bob Dragich

    Including the GTS and not including the R6 seems a bit uninformed.

  • Jon Jones

    The FZ600 was a pretty sweet ride at the time.

  • 0verdose

    No R6?

  • Tinwoods

    Great list. Thanks!

  • Robs

    My first bike was a 78 RD400. Bought it near new from a co-worker that had it less than a month. He’d already put a low-rise handlebar on it, but the day I bought it I rode it into my garage and it emerged a month later with pipes, rear-sets, clubmans, 1/4 fairing, Daytona Special seat, and various other details.

    • evan morrow

      Very sweet looking tricked out RD400….I”ve always loved the RD’s.. The 2-stroke snappy throttle response, lightness, the high-rev scream of it’s exhaust and attractive looking design made me want one from the first moment I saw one..

  • Ron Austin

    I was sure the list would have included the Gen1 (2001-2005) FZ1. We all have our favorites I guess.

    • Tinwoods

      Especially because it’s one of Yamaha’s longest running models. I have a heavily modified 2006 Gen 2.

  • Jamie Robinson

    That little FZR started my career in motorcycling !! still want an original 89 like my first one.

  • Tinwoods

    Among my 30+ motorcycles over 35 years of riding, I’ve owned two first-year FZ750’s, a later-year FZ750, an FZR1000, a YZF1000R “Thunderace,” two R1’s, and my current FZ1. I thought at least the first and last of these bikes would have made this list, but I understand that there wasn’t enough room for every great Yamaha sport bike (or sport-tourer) on a Top 10 List.